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AGO 1951 No. 108 - August 27, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

POWERS OF THE STATE BOARD OF LAND COMMISSIONERS

The State Board of Land Commissioners has general supervisory authority over leases of state lands, but does not have authority to investigate trespasses on state lands.

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                                                                 August 27, 1951

Honorable Earl Coe
Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 108

Dear Sir:

            Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of August 23, 1951, in which, in your capacity as then acting chairman of the Board of State Land Commissioners, you requested our opinion as to the authority of that board regarding leases and trespasses.

            It is our conclusion that with respect to leases the board has authority to exercise general supervision and control over all leases of land granted to the state for educational purposes.  This includes the power to hold a particular sale or lease in abeyance and the power to determine whether or not, and the terms upon which, a proposed sale or lease of educational land shall be made.  With respect to trespasses the board has no functions.  The board has no general supervisory power over the office of the State Land Commissioner.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            By chapter 255, Laws of 1927, (Rem. Rev. Stat. 7797-1 et seq.) the legislature enacted a comprehensive statute with regard to the management and control of state lands.  Prior to the passage of that statute there were numerous laws upon this subject, many of which were not expressly repealed by this enactment, but have been superseded by inconsistent provisions in the comprehensive later act.  Chapter 255, Laws of 1927, specifies the duties of the Board of State Land Commissioners and those of the Commissioner of  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Public Lands.  In an opinion of this office dated June 10, 1941, to the Commissioner of Public Lands, we analyzed the relationship of the state land commissioner and the board of state land commissioners.  A copy of that opinion is attached for your information.  We reaffirm its correctness.  In essence it points out that the provisions of chapter 255, Laws of 1927, give to the land commissioner the primary function of managing, selling and leasing the state lands.  However, with respect to lands granted to the state for educational purposes, the State Board of Land Commissioners exercises general supervision and control over sales and leases.  Section 3, chapter 217, Laws of 1941 (§ 7797-23a Rem. Supp. 1941) prescribes the powers of the Board of Land Commissioners.  That section reads as follows:

            "The Board of State Land Commissioners shall exercise general supervision and control over the sale or lease for any purpose of land granted to the state for educational purposes and also over the sale of timber, fallen timber, stone, gravel and all other valuable materials situated thereon.  It shall be the duty of the Commissioner of Public Lands, on its request, to furnish the Board with all reports, data and information in the records of his office pertaining to any such proposed sale or lease, and the Board of State Land Commissioners shall have power, if it deems it advisable, to order that any particular sale or lease of such land or valuable materials be held in abeyance pending further inspection and report.  The Board may cause such further inspection and report of land or materials involved in any proposed sale or lease to be made and for that purpose shall have power to employ its own inspectors, cruisers and other technical assistants.  Upon the basis of such further inspection and report the board shall determine whether or not, and the terms upon which, the proposed sale or lease shall be consummated."

            The opinion holds that the Board's powers in the light of the 1927 enactment are, with respect to educational lands: To exercise general supervision and control over such sales and leases.  To hold a particular sale or lease in abeyance pending further inspection and report.  To cause such further inspection and report to be made.  To determine whether or not and the terms upon which such proposed sale or lease shall be made.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            There is nothing in chapter 255, Laws of 1927, or in any of the later enactments which gives the State Board of Land Commissioners general supervisory power over the functions of the office of the Commissioner of Public Lands.  Their duties are restricted to supervision of sales or leases of educational lands.  They are charged with the function of setting the value of educational lands proposed for sale by the terms of section 23, chapter 255, Laws of 1927 was last amended by section 2, chapter 217, Laws of 1941 (§ 7797-23 Rem. Supp. 1941) but they do not even have this function with respect to leases of such land.  It is the function of the Land Commissioner to initiate leases and to complete them in the absence of intervention by the board.

            In regard to the function of investigating and prosecuting trespasses upon state lands, section 200, chapter 255, Laws of 1927 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 7797-200) reads:

            "The commissioner of public lands is authorized and directed to investigate all trespasses and wastes upon, and damages to, public lands of the state, and to cause prosecutions for, and/or actions for the recovery of, the same, to be commenced as is provided by law."

            Section 193, chapter 255, Laws of 1927 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 7797-193) reads:

            "The commissioner of public lands is authorized and directed to appear before the United States land offices in all cases involving the validity of the selections of any lands granted to the state, and to summon witnesses and pay necessary witness fees and stenographer fees in such contested cases."

            There is an older statute which gave the identical powers set out in the two sections quoted to the State Board of Land Commissioners.  Section 64, chapter 89, Laws of 1897 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 7806) reads:

            "Said board of land commissioners be and it is hereby directed and empowered to investigate all trespasses on and damage to state lands, and prosecute the same under the law; that said board shall also appear before the United States land office in all cases involving the validity of the selections of any of the state's granted or school  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] lands, and shall be authorized and empowered to summon witnesses and pay necessary witness fees and clerical hire in such contested cases."

            Chapter 255, Laws of 1927, did not expressly repeal the section last quoted, and for that reason the compiler of Remington's Revised Statutes has continued to include it in the code.  The law is well settled, however, that where the legislature enacts a new statute covering an entire subject the effect is to repeal previous inconsistent statutes.

            "It is a settled rule that repeals by implication, although not ordinarily favored in law, are nevertheless effective when it appears that a legislative act is intended to cover the entire field of legislation upon a particular subject, or that subsequent legislation is contrary to, and inconsistent with, the former act * * *."  State ex rel. Spokane Branch v. Justice Court, 189 Wash. 87, 63 P. (2d) 937;Peterson v. King County, 199 Wash. 106, 90 P. (2d) 729.

            In this case the two statutes cover exactly the same matter and prescribe different responsibilities.  Thus, under the well settled rule, the latter prevails.

            It is, therefore, our opinion that the duty to investigate trespasses and prosecute the same rests upon the Commissioner of Public Lands by section 200, chapter 255, Laws of 1927, and that the Board of State Land Commissioners has been relieved of that duty formerly imposed upon them by the statute.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

LYLE L. IVERSEN
Assistant Attorney General

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